The process of weaving a tapestry portrait

This is clever stuff.

Tapestry artist Kathy Spoering demonstrates weaving from a cartoon. She traces a photo of herself, transfers that “cartoon” onto the warp of her loom, and then weaves a self portrait. Doesn’t that sound simple? And how many of us could manage to get as far as getting a decent tracing of the photo?

The comparison between the finished tapestry and the original photo is stunning.

See the whole process here. She has certainly got my vote in the 2018 self portrait competition.



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Useful work, or is it playing with my new toys…

I have recently become a sewing volunteer at Sewerby Hall in Bridlington. Theoretically, we make and maintain costumes for exhibits, and for visitors (especially children) to dress up in. The house is intended to be pretty much as it was in 1910.

In practice, we do whatever sewing jobs are needed. In a recent session, I helped make some Iron Age outfits for the Treasure House in Beverley. I can’t get there for the group sessions very often, as it clashes with our choir rehearsals. So I plan to go when I can, and bring away with me any jobs that can be done  at home.

This time I have brought a selection of fabric that has been donation to the cause, but has yet to come in handy for a 1910 costumes. I am using it to make an assortment of toy bags for Lucy, the Under 5s Officer. So far, I have 14 in assorted sizes, cut to use up the bits and pieces. I have sewn them together using my “new” overlocker. I haven’t used one before, so this project has been really useful experience, which is one reason why I brought this fabric home this time. The other reason is, let’s face it, this isn’t the most interesting job, so poor Lucy has been waiting for some time.

My trusty sewing machine is on the point of giving up the ghost, so I am about to get myself a new one. When I do, finishing off these bags will be an ideal first project. Lots of straight seams to get used to the new method of working!

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Progress in the dye garden

I’m beginning to move on from the idea of a dedicated dye garden.

I suspected this moment would come.

Originally, I had plans for a kitchen garden. I set up eight raised beds, and allocated the beds to different types of crop. I grew annuals on the square foot basis, where plant spacing is governed by how many plants fit in a square foot of the plot, so you might have 9 smaller plants, but one nice big cabbage. This system has lots of advantages. It helps you to move away from the initial pleasure of having a whole row of lettuce, and then realising that you have a glut, just at the same time as everyone else does. You plant a couple of squares with each crop, and as each is harvested you plant something else in that space. With a small amount of planning, you have a sensible quantity of a variety of crops, and you don’t have to think too hard about crop rotation. And on top of all that, the plot looks nicer, because if there are unsightly spaces, they are smaller and well distributed. As a theory, I can recommend it.

My garden is very windy, so I selected as many weatherproof varieties as I could find, giving priority to dwarf ones, on the theory that they had to be less vulnerable to wind damage. Then I sorted out some perennials. I had a bed of rhubarb (two thirds of which is still there), some raspberries and strawberries (a magnet for bindweed) and some asparagus (which did nothing at all).

The broad beans did well in the first year, as did the lettuce and some of the sprouts. But by the second year, word had got out. Before anything was near being ready for me to eat, it had already gone to a selection of slugs, rabbits, pigeons, and deer.

Last year I decided to try a dye garden. I planted up a couple of beds with perennial dye plants, and left them to settle for the first year. Obviously, all the plants were quite small, so I filled in the spaces with some annuals that would cheer things up and keep the dye theme going. I got some beautiful marigolds and some dark fuchsias and petunias from the local nursery. The next time I looked, they were gone. And yes, I did remember slug pellets.

I have had a couple of sessions over the winter combing the seed catalogues for entries including the words tinctorius or tinctoria, and had an interesting selection of seeds to try this year. Most are annuals. I suspect these will go the same way as the annual vegetables. Some are sunflowers, which I think won’t survive the wind.

I drew up a sowing plan, and put reminders in my calendar. But next door’s cat used the roof of my little greenhouse as a springboard to get back over the fence once too often, so I’ve had a bit of a bottleneck, with not enough space for growing plants on the window sill. So some seeds are still in the packet, and inevitably of course, some didn’t germinate.

So I reckon that annual seeds are probably not the way forward. Until recently, there hasn’t been much sign of life in those raised beds, if you don’t count dandelions, nettles, and docks. The comfrey and the woad are making a good effort, but there was no sign of anything else.

I had a massive weeding session over the Bank Holiday weekend, and discovered a few tentative shoots emerging. The rosemary and sage are still there from the kitchen garden, and although they show signs of being attacked by the Beast from the East, they are trying very hard to get over it.

So I am going to leave last year’s planting to sort itself out, see how far I get with this year’s annuals, and fill up the rest with perennials and shrubs. I’ll plant dyestuff when I can, but you have to be realistic, don’t you?

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A Viking embroidery

They say research is what you are doing when you aren’t doing anything else.

Well, last night I did some research. One of the members of my Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers recommended this link about the Høylandet tapestry, a wool embroidery measure 211 x 44 cm, on a linen and wool ground, depicting Bible scenes. It was stashed away in the church at Høylandet, in central Norway, and was rediscovered in 1859.

Apparently, these long textile friezes were quite usual as part of church decor. They hung at the top of the wall, with other textiles hanging below them. This one dates from the early 12th century. Its origins are still unclear but it might be from Nidaros in Norway.

My “research” lead me to this timeline of Viking age tapestries. I hadn’t realised there were so many. So there will be more research going on, including both reading and looking at Pinterest. There is some wonderful stuff to be investigated on this line.

I’m rather struck by the Three Kings scene on this Norwegian embroidery:

They remind me of the Byzantine mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy. This splendid version shows them as Byzantine art usually does, in Persian clothing, including breeches, capes, and Phrygian caps.

The two versions, created so far apart are have very similar posture, and they are travelling in the same direction. Maybe they were both designed for the same side of the church? Maybe a Norwegian traveller saw the mosaics, which were created around 565?

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A lace pillow

I found an old book about needle lace making recently. In the list of tools and equipment, it mentioned that a drum shaped lace pillow is a handy thing to have, as it allows you to support the work while still being able to use both hands.

Now I know that is obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. I used to have a lace pillow, but I got rid of that when I found that I can’t get on with bobbin lace. I can set it up, & get started, and each time I think this will be the time I can make some progress. Then I put it aside carefully at the end of the session. When I go back to it, somehow the whole thing is a terrible muddle, and I can’t get started with it again.

Anyway, that pillow was a dome shape, so all the bobbins hung nicely and kept the thread under tension as work progressed. A drum sounds a much more reasonable idea for needle lace.

The instructions start “Take an old catering size baked bean tin.” I’m a governor of the local school, so I emailed Rosina, our business manager, who had a scrounging trip on my behalf into the kitchen and produced two suitable tins.

Stage one was to roll the tin in quilt wadding. I’ve just finished some patchwork, so I used the offcut from the side of the roll to save on dithering about dimensions. As you can see from the pictures, that went round a couple of times. There was no indication of how to keep the wadding in place. I didn’t like the idea of glue, and it occurred to me that the base of the tin might be a handy surface a some point. So I folded the extra bit of width down over the base and hemmed it all together, pulling as tightly as I dared.

The next stage of the instructions say to use a drab fabric to make a cover. “This is not the place for a gay print.” Yes, the book is that old! I remember being told that the best cover for a blocking board is a regular check, so you can pin against the straight lines and avoid doing too much measuring as you block your knitting to shape. So I used the palest quarter inch gingham I could find. Those squares will help to guage the size of what I’m making, as well as making sure all the straight lines are straight, and angles are square if required.

The idea is to sew the fabric into a tube, make a wide hem at each end, thread a cord through each hem, and tighten these cord to hold the cover in place. You can then undo the cord at the open end of the tin when you want to use it to store your smaller bits of equipment, threads scissors etc.

Useful details about how to get the measuring of the squashy shape right were not included in the book. So I sewed one end of the side seam, and made a very wide hem at that end to form a frill/channel for some ribbon. Then I tied up this “bag opening”, wrapped the fabric in place, pinned it down, and hemmed it on, using the same “parcel wrapping” technique to finish the bottom end.

So now I can make a shape by sticking pins into the pillow, and fill it in with needle lace. The pictures show the beginnings of a leaf shape, just to try it out. I don’t think I’ll be using the inside of the tin for storage any time soon. The rattle would get on my nerves. Now if I got round to lining it…


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Red onion skins

I heard on Woman’s Hour recently that red onion skins give green. I thought that was worth a go. Onion skins are very light, and you hear tales of people getting their friends and neighbours to save all theirs to go into the dye pot. As most people are dying enough fibre to make a garment or a quilt, while I’m only wanting to dye a silk scarf, I thought it was worth a go.

One supper from a Nadiya Hussain red onion recipe gave me more than I needed, in fact I had enough for two. I scrunched up both scarves, and put rubber bands round the bundle for one to get a marbled effect, and on the other I put some clothes pegs to give a random resist pattern.

The dye bath was pretty much the same colour as the skins that went in, but the result was a definite old gold, as so many natural dye stuffs yield. It is a nice colour, and it is quite different from the burnt orange I got with white onion skins.

So I wondered whether it was a mistake to use mordanted fabric. I just reached for the basket of alum mordanted scarves waiting to be processed, forgetting that white onion skins don’t need a mordant, so probably the red don’t either. The result was much more like the colour of a red onion.

But not green. And it proves that changing the mordant changes the result. But I didn’t have anything mordanted with another chemical handy. What else might change the dye colour? Acidity.

There was quite a lot of colour left in the second due bath, so I got out the ph indicator paper, and found that it was neutral. So I split it into two bowls, and added vinegar to one to make it acidic, and bicarbonate of soda to the other to make it alkali. Nothing terribly scientific, just enough of each to get the ph to 8 and 3.

So here are the results of the red onion experiments so far. From left to right, we have:

  • unmordanted,
  • the two alum mordanted,
  • the exhaust dye bath from the one on the left, with white vinegar added,
  • and the other half of the exhaust due bath, with bicarbonate of soda added.

So still no green. I’m guessing the bicarbonate of soda had no effect, as the paler colour is probably the result of reusing the dye. Of course, what I should have done is to split the dye bath into three, so I had an un-adapted “control”,  but I didn’t think of that in time.

So now the experiment is on pause until I have more red onion skins.

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Fascinating indigo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI knew that indigo gives a good, flexible blue to those who know what they are doing.

I didn’t know that it gives fabric anti-bacterial and fireproofing qualities.

This short video shows some of the traditional Japanese processes involved in growing and using indigo.

I have read that indigo doesn’t grow well in northern climates, and if it does, it is unlikely that our summer will be long enough for the pigment to mature. This video emphasises the difference between the growing conditions in the part of Japan shown and East Yorkshire. They have a river running just below the surface, warming the soil.

I think I’ll stick to trying to grow woad.

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An experiment with the peg loom

I’ve had my peg loom for a while. I originally got it to make a rag rug to protect our heads from a low doorway. I wove a rectangle with strips of old sheets and curtains that had been used as dust sheets. Although I liked the result, I wanted something with a bit more impact. So I made a second layer with some pile to it.

Then I decided to do an experimental piece of art, and made this windmill banner.

Since then, I’ve had loads of ideas, & read a lot about peg looms, but not actually done anything with it.

So it is time that changed.

A peg loom is a very simple gadget. You have a series of regularly spaced holes to hold your pegs, and the warps are tied to the pegs. You weave on the pegs, and when that gets full, you push the fabric down onto the weft strings.

The result is a thick and flexible fabric. You can create all sorts of patterns, but you have to be prepared to go with the flow a little. You can’t aim for exact measurements, because everything depends on the type of weft you use, and how tightly you squidge it down. WordPress doesn’t recognise that term, probably because it is a little technical for it.

So I thought I’d make a mirror frame. Here is a collage of what I did:

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Time for resolutions again

imageIf you are on Twitter, have a look at @damienkempf. He has put together a series of New Year resolutions based on medieval paintings.

My favourite is this one: be more fashionable.

Whether that is a good idea or not depends on what the fashion is at the time.

As the picture demonstrates.


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A shelf unit from pallets

I like using natural dyes. The problem is that a lot of them are rather smelly to process.  And that process takes hours, so the whole house gets to share the smell. In warmer climates, people set up some form of camping stove outside, so that they can enjoy the weather and avoid the smell.

In a Yorkshire winter, cooking outside isn’t so appealing.

I’ve got a studio attached to the house, and the connecting door is very convenient. But any smell in there will find its way into the rest of the house. So I’m setting up a dye house a separate garage. There are various bits and pieces that I need to have handy when I’m out there, and of course there are some things that need to be kept in the garage anyway. So I need a storage unit.

I saved the pallets from the recent building work, and I’ve seen lots of ideas on Pinterest for turning them into furniture. Of course, my pallets don’t seem to work for any of the plans I’ve seen, so I’ve had to use my initiative. With the aid of a jig saw, some cable ties and a bit of MDF, this is what I’ve made. 

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